- The Sooners needed to win in Columbus not only for themselves, but for the playoff chances of their conference. Baker Mayfield made sure they came through.
Oklahoma earned a ton of respect for itself and for its conference Saturday. Here are three thoughts from the Sooners’ 31–16 win at Ohio State.
1. The team with the better quarterback won. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield tore apart Ohio State’s defense, keeping plays alive with his legs and completing passes to nine different teammates for a total of 386 yards and three touchdowns. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, meanwhile, completed 19 of 35 passes for 183 yards with no touchdowns and a critical fourth-quarter interception to Sooners cornerback Parnell Motley.
The teams ended the first half tied at three. Mayfield had limped off the field late in the second quarter. He was briefly replaced by Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray, but he returned before halftime. But it was after the half that the Sooners looked like a different offense.
Oklahoma answered a quick Ohio State touchdown with a 65-yard yard drive that included a 21-yard pass to Grant Calcaterra and a 36-yard touchdown pass to fullback Dmitri Flowers. Freshman tailback Trey Sermon’s 10-yard touchdown catch with 11:11 remaining allowed the Sooners to go up 24–13, and Oklahoma quickly turned Motley’s interception into points thanks to a crushing block by Flowers that sprung Jordan Smallwood for a three-yard touchdown run.
The Sooners haven’t yet identified a receiver as explosive as Dede Westbrook, but Sermon might be able to give them the kind of running and receiving versatility Joe Mixon provided last year. Tight end Mark Andrews left the game with an injury in the first half, which makes Mayfield’s second-half performance even more incredible.
2. The win is almost as big for the Big 12 as it is for the Sooners. The league needed a marquee out-of-conference win to earn respect in the eyes of a playoff committee that won’t meet until October. But if this season plays out like last season, this game could loom large. Ohio State, which didn’t win its own division last season, made the playoff in large part because the Buckeyes went to Norman and crushed the Sooners last September. Oklahoma should get the same kind of bump as long as Ohio State has a good season.
Now the Sooners have to do what they did after the Ohio State loss last season and win the Big 12. That might be a tougher task this season, because Oklahoma State looks great, Kansas State and West Virginia might also be good and TCU looks improved. Plus, whoever wins the league will have to win a championship game. But if that team is Oklahoma or a team that beats Oklahoma, the Sooners’ win in Columbus should help the league’s perception.
3. Perhaps it’s time Ohio State at least tried another option at quarterback. Barrett is a wonderful leader who has the respect of the locker room and the coaching staff. Unfortunately, he has not played well against the Buckeyes’ better opponents since that Oklahoma game last year. I’m not suggesting the Buckeyes bench Barrett. Start him in games against Army, UNLV and Rutgers during the next three weeks, but also take a look at how the offense moves with backup Dwayne Haskins at the controls.
Haskins, a redshirt freshman, is supposed to be the future of the Ohio State offense. It wouldn’t be sacrilege to at least check to see if he might be the present. If the Buckeyes fancy themselves national title contenders, they can’t afford to be sentimental. Ohio State has no more room for error now. Before the Buckeyes face the meat of their Big Ten schedule, they need to be absolutely sure they’re starting the best quarterback on the roster.